The holiday season brings both expectations of joy and pressure to fulfill those expectations. We feel as if we must be the perfect partner, parent, chef, gift-giver, decorator, etc. This seasonal stress can be difficult to manage when you’re in the middle of a grief process related to your partner’s betrayal. With that in mind, I want to give you with a few tips that might help you successfully navigate your way through the holiday season.
1. Don’t Overdo It
When you’re in the midst of betrayal trauma, you are already at the outside of your window of tolerance – the area in which you are well-regulated and able to manage stress. This means you’re not in the best space for the additional expectations, tensions, and anxieties that come with the holidays. You’re already in a hyperactivated state where you’re struggling to make it through the day without accidentally lighting the house on fire. And now you’re supposed to become Martha Stewart for the next month?
Even if you’re managing the trauma of betrayal incredibly well and not having emotional breakdowns every hour on the hour, you probably don’t have the extra bandwidth to deal with holidays stresses (both big and little). Betrayal trauma compromises your normal level of functioning making it harder to do your daily routines and carry your typical workload.
Plus, the holidays can make your betrayal wounds come even more alive and you can experience more loneliness, sadness and anger. This is because the holidays heighten the loss of your dreams as you struggle to manage the fallout from the betrayal. Even attempts to offer support made by family, friends, and well-meaning others, not to mention your cheating partner’s misguided attempts to “make nice” for the holidays can grate on your final nerve. This can leave you feeling exhausted, physically and mentally clumsy, and suffering from headaches, body aches, stomach issues, and more.
If this sounds familiar, it’s time to step back and give yourself a break. It’s also time to accept that this holiday season you’re not going to be able to do as much as you would normally do. You’re going to have to make some decisions about what to say yes to and what to say no to. You’ll need to prioritize taking care of yourself and honoring the feelings and limitations that betrayal is creating.
2. Differentiate Privacy from Secrecy
Many of my clients tell my they are going to be around family for the holidays but don’t want them to know about their relational struggles. These clients don’t feel like it is appropriate or safe to tell the family and friends about the betrayal. However, at the same time, they struggle with feeling that they are keeping a secret.
If you identify with this, you need to differentiate privacy from secrecy. Secrets are things we keep hidden for the good of others (a surprise birthday party for example) or things we keep hidden because we feel shame about them.
Betrayal automatically creates feelings of shame that often attach to the betrayed partner. This shame does not belong to you, but it can still stick to you making it challenging to release and let go. This shame is what can make it feel like we are holding a secret about the betrayal when in fact we are simply maintaining good boundaries around something that is private.
Privacy is different from secrecy. Privacy is exercising wise judgement about who you share personal information and experiences with. Privacy is knowing what is good for you to share and what would open the door to further emotional stress or harm. Privacy is having good boundaries that allow you to share the parts of yourself with others that you feel are appropriate to share and to keep the parts of yourself that belong just to you or your relationship private.
3. Feel the Feels
The holidays can amp up your emotions, both good and bad. In addition to being hyper-aware of the betrayal you’ve experienced, you’ve got family gathered, children opening gifts, and the magical traditions and rituals of the holidays. All of that added togetherness can create big waves of feelings.
Rather than fighting the fact that your emotions will run hotter during the holidays by trying to ignore or repress your feelings, I want to encourage you to create room and space for these hard emotions.
As you navigate the holidays, feel the feels. Enjoy the good moments; experience and process the bad moments. Cry when you need to. Accept that this holiday season you are likely to feel grief, sadness, fear and uncertainty about your relationship and life. Instead of pushing them away, allow the feelings to be felt, cried, journaled, talked out etc., so that they can move through you. This will create the ability to feel the good feelings of joy or connection that the holidays can also hold (even during betrayal trauma). When we shut off the emotional faucet, we shut off everything. Instead, work on keeping the connection to your emotional self in place and come alongside yourself in a nurturing supportive way.
4. Practice Gratitude
My final tip is to practice gratitude. At this point, we hear this advice everywhere and it can make us want to roll our eyes and say, “yea, yea, whatever”. Even so, I’m including this suggestion because focusing on gratitude is a powerful way to change your brain state.
When you make a list of the things you’re grateful for, even in the middle of betrayal trauma, you help the threat center of your brain to calm down and you shift your emotional state out of distress into gratitude, abundance, connection and support. This shift helps you come back inside your window of tolerance, where you can access your resourcefulness and better cope with whatever you’re facing.
Gratitude is a useful practice all year round. It’s not just a special tool for the holidays. It’s a coping skill that can be used on a daily basis as a way of shifting from the brain’s threat center into clarity and coping. So whether gratitude is a new skill or an old standby for you, I encourage you to use it and use it often during the holidays, and to carry that practice into the new year.